A health coach and friend of mine, Kate McIntyre, posed an important set of questions to a group of other health coaches:
“Time Magazine was famous for telling us to stop eating fat in the 80s, and recently had a cover which read “eat more butter”. Taking fat out of our diets and replacing it with chemicals made people very sick. Thank goodness we’re back to fat. Anyway, are we now taking the gluten thing too far? Is it a major marketing ploy? Do you eat gluten free? Are we to trust Time magazine again for diet advice or use our innate bodily wisdom to figure this out?”
So I thought about this for a second, and decided to write down my thoughts, and share them with you…
When I read his book immediately following my 2012 trip to Italy, and once again having had a completely different physiological experience with wheat products there than I do here in the US, this is the single sentence, from the Wheat Belly, by cardiovascular surgeon, William Davis, that officially landed me in the ‘no-more wheat products for me’ (in the US) category:
“Fourteen-chromosome wild grass has been transformed into the forty-two-chromosome, nitrate-fertilized, top-heavy, ultra-high-yield variety that now enables us to buy bagels by the dozen, pancakes by the stack, and pretzels by the ‘family size’ bag,” Dr. Davis writes.
Let me be clear here: the difference between a human male and a female, is only 2 chromosomes. Something is just wrong.
For me, it’s not about ‘gluten-free’. It’s really about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) – and unnatural things that nature did not originally intend for the wheat plant (or for other plants – like corn, soy, rapeseed, cotton and others that have, more often than not, been significantly modified in effort to churn product at faster speeds for industrial purposes).
The reality is, I don’t have a big problem with wheat itself, with one exception – and I will get to that. I happen to enjoy whole grain wheat products (with care) when I travel to places in the world where plants have NOT been altered in such an extreme way. But in the US, I abstain. I have personally decided that whatever happened to mutate that 14-chromasome wheat plant into something with 42-chromasomes in effort to grow and sell it faster, can’t possibly be good for me.
And it has to be doing something unnatural when I eat it – that makes me feel bloated, sluggish, and it makes my skin breakout. Even worse, it has this magic power that makes me want to (I mentioned I would get to that exception), despite these symptoms, EAT MORE of it! No, no – this stuff they call wheat does not agree with me, and it makes me gain weight too (NOT because I am gluten intolerant, but because I seem to want to eat too much of it)!
So I dropped it over 2 years ago. No bread, no pasta, no pizza, no other things made with wheat products (or other highly-GM foods). And while I think there are other choices that have also contributed (such as a significant reduction in added sugar in my diet), I no longer suffer from migraines, my skin is clear, my eyes are bright, I have a great deal of energy, and I’m not bloated.
But it is important to recognize that I also abstain from most manufactured products that are labeled ‘Gluten Free’ (granted, there are some that say gluten-free on them, that are quality products). My choices are typically real food from a farm somewhere – not from a factory.
I think that like many other diet fads latched onto by Big Food marketing departments, the Gluten-Free fad has gotten completely out of control, only once again fooling Americans into thinking that because a label says ‘Gluten-Free’, it must be good for us – and therefore, selling more units, and making more money for their company (their company that reports earnings to Wall Street every quarter). Do we truly believe that Kelloggs and General Mills are sending us down the path to perfect health?
Lets take a look: what exactly are they putting into these ‘Gluten-Free’ products? On one popular brand of Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, the label reads:
Brown Sugar, Rice Flour, Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin*, natural flavor), Water, Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Sugar, Corn Starch, Modified Potato Starch, Eggs, Modified Tapioca Starch, Salt, Baking Soda, Xanthan Gum, Natural Flavor. Contains: Eggs, Soy; May contain Milk Ingredients.
Let’s look a little closer at a few of these ingredients we see in this Gluten-Free product, and in many other packaged goods stamped ‘Gluten-Free’:
Brown Sugar – The first ingredient (or close to it, in many Gluten-Free products). Note that there is often a LOT of added sugar in manufactured, ‘gluten-free’ products. According to Harvard Medical School, “Over the course of the 15-year study, participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar.”
Now lets clear up the big question about the nutrition of white versus brown sugar. Many people assume that brown sugar is more nutritional than white sugar, simply because it’s brown. Sorry – this is not the same as brown and white rice. Raw sugar comes from sugar cane, and it is a little brown when it is formed. It appears brownish because of the presence of molasses. Manufacturers of sugar will bleach the sugar to remove the molasses, and this makes the sugar white. Brown sugar is produced by adding molasses back to the white sugar. The difference in taste between white and brown sugar is actually the taste of molasses. The nutritional value between brown and white sugar is practically undetectable.
Palm oil – This vegetable oil, derived from the fruit of vegetable palms, is often used as an alternative to butter in processed baked goods and pastry dough because it is very versatile, stable at high heat, tasteless, trans-fat free, and most-importantly: inexpensive. This is not coconut oil, so please don’t confuse the two – they are quite different. Palm oil is highly refined, and poses a number of cardiovascular risks.
From Livestrong: ‘…a study published in a 1999 issue of “Plant Foods for Human Nutrition,” points out that (palm) oil in an oxidized state can threaten physiological and biochemical functions of the body. They acknowledge that manufacturers of processed foods oxidize palm oil in their products for a variety of culinary purposes, meaning that much of the palm oil consumers eat is in an oxidized state. The dangers of oxidized palm oil include organ toxicity of the heart, kidney, liver and lungs, as well as reproductive toxicity, the researchers claim.’ Palm oil is NOT clean, nor is it health food.
Canola oil – First, let me clarify that there is no such thing as a “canola”. It comes from rapeseed. Canola is a made up word that was chosen by the board of the Rapeseed Association of Canada in the 1970s. The “Can” part stands for Canada and “ola” refers to oil. Calling the product “rape oil” would certainly have been interesting for Big Food companies. While canola oil is low in saturated fat, it is one of the top 3 genetically modified (GMO) foods. And while I am at it, I’d like to call out Whole Foods for using an increasing amount of Canola Oil in their prepared foods department.
Corn starch – GMOs again. While we cannot say definitively that the corn starch in every Gluten-Free product is a GMO, there is a pretty good chance it is, so Caveat Emptor (buyer beware). After all, General Mills invested almost $2 million to stop GMO ingredient labeling on food products. The Monsanto corn kernel is actively policed to bully farmers into using this highly mutated seed, and up to 85% of corn grown in the US is GM as a result. Monsanto has invested roughly $12 milliion in Washington and California states alone to lobby the avoidance of GMO labeling on products. Remember – these are publicly-traded companies that have got to move product, and move it as FAST as possible. Why would’t you be cautious about eating products like these?
Modified Potato Starch and Modified Tapioca Starch – Modified food starches are likely harmless; however, are extremely refined, so the important thing to note is there is little nutritional value here.
Xanthan Gum – This is commonly used as a binder to replace gluten in baked goods. Per Livestrong, “Xanthan gum can cause migraines or skin irritation. Its side effects also include intestinal gas, flatulence, diarrhea and bloating. Increased exposure can make the symptoms worse. A 1990 report in the “Journal of Occupational Medicine” notes that people exposed to large amounts of xanthan gum powder, such as bakery workers, can experience flulike symptoms that include nose and throat irritation.”
So while there are many people out there who are, in fact, gluten intolerant, or who have Celiac disease and cannot eat products with gluten, I think it is very important to ask each one of ourselves these questions – and even experiment to better understand how our individual bodies react:
Is it the gluten or the GMOs that are affecting me?
What Gluten-Free foods are truly healthy ones?
How can I aim to choose more real foods, instead of manufactured ones?
How is this Gluten-Free fad playing a role in MY health?
When the Atkins fad was the IT program in the 90s, did everyone live to be 100? Well, Atkins himself passed away at 72.
When the ‘high complex carb’ fad was the IT thing in the 80s, did everyone lose a bunch of weight? I’m here to tell you, I gained about 25 pounds. Why? Because most of us do these prescribed diets ‘wrong’. We don’t follow them the way they were originally intended. We end up shopping in the convenient middle-aisles, and purchasing manufactured goods that have a big colorful stamp on them: ‘High in complex carbs!’, ‘Atkins Diet Approved’, ‘Gluten-Free!’.
In the end, the solution is relatively simple. Shop in the outer aisles where there are no labels. Choose organic as often as possible. Look for GMO labeling. And most importantly, for optimum health, eat the food that came with the planet (primarily plant-based), not the food that came from a factory or from a science experiment. Marvel in it! It’s pretty miraculous! And along with it – you will start to LOOK and FEEL pretty amazing too!